The saga of the self-destructive mode the Congress has been for the past several years, does not seem to be ending soon. The party leadership, for no rhyme or reason, picked on the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Bhupesh Baghel and created an impression that his days were numbered as he was going to be shortly replaced by his colleague, T.S. Singh Deo. Baghel was summoned to the capital twice in the course of the week, but on Friday managed to convince both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra that his continuation in his position was essential to fulfil promises made to the people of the region. He left after inviting Rahul Gandhi to visit Chhattisgarh. Incidentally, Chhattisgarh is the only state in the cow belt where the Congress managed to win the Assembly elections convincingly and the high command, at the time, advised by the shrewd Ahmed Patel, recognized Baghel’s contribution in this magnificent victory, by rewarding him with the CM’s post. At the time as also now, Singh Deo did a lot of lobbying, assisted by his sister and senior Congress leader, Asha Kumari, who is presently settled in Himachal Pradesh, but was unable to make the Gandhis change their mind. He is also viewed as a strong leader, but Baghel has acquired a stature, which is unmatched and is regarded as the front ranking leaders of his generation.
There have been attempts to also needlessly create problems for established leaders in other states also. In Haryana, where after those entrusted on behalf of the AICC, started interfering in the affairs, the MLAs stood unitedly behind Bhupinder Singh Hooda and sought time from the high command to get clarity on the matter. The elected representatives conveyed in clear terms to K.C. Venugopal, general secretary in charge of organization that this needless exercise would harm the party rather than strengthening it.
Venugopal has apparently emerged as the most trusted AICC functionary so far as Rahul is concerned. However, his lack of understanding of party matters and history sometimes baffles even veterans. The story doing the rounds is that former Delhi strongman, H.K.L. Bhagat’s grandson, who wants to make a debut in politics, met him recently. While presenting his credentials for a party role, when the young man introduced himself as Bhagat’s grandson, Venugopal wanted to know who H.K.L. Bhagat was. He then added that he must have been a leader somewhere in the 1950s, while trivializing the matter further.
The saddest story is about Punjab where infighting seems to be pulling the party in opposite directions. Navjot Singh Sidhu has relentlessly been taking pot shots at his own government and watching him do so, his advisers also started doing the same. However, on being cautioned by the high command, Sidhu’s controversial aide, Malvinder Singh Mali quit on Friday after clarifying that his views on Kashmir and several other matters were personal. Mali had recently launched a frontal attack on the Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh and also dragged into public domain, matters pertaining to his personal life. This was viewed in political circles as crossing the Lakshman Rekha and the protests by the Captain’s supporters were finally heard by the central leadership.
Sidhu has emerged as the stormy petrel of Punjab politics and true to his maverick style of functioning, threatened the high command after Mali and another advisor’s resignation, that he was prepared to take the high command head on, if there was any kind of interference. Party general secretary, Harish Rawat tried to play down the issue and said that he would have to go through the matter thoroughly before making any comments. This happened when Sidhu seemed to be gaining ascendancy in the party but he in an impulsive moment seems to have knocked down his own stumps. The decision of his being out or not is with the high command and with Priyanka back from the US, he may get a reprieve after being cautioned. Sidhu’s style of functioning had initially endeared him to the majority of MLAs, who now are feeling insecure whether the former opening batsman would be able to carry his bat through the Assembly elections, early next year, to secure a victory for the Congress, which would be contesting the polls under Amarinder Singh’s leadership.
In a bid to distance themselves from Sidhu and to show their allegiance to the party, 58 MLAs and eight MPs gathered at Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi’s residence in Chandigarh on Thursday night. The Chief Minister, who dropped in, was personally greeted by most of those who attended the dinner.
Incidentally, Rana Sodhi is considered close to the CM but also enjoys goodwill and cordial relations with other MLAs. He had earlier been chosen as the interlocutor to bring Sidhu and the Captain together, before the cricketer was named as the Pradesh Chief. The message emanating from the dinner was that there was a need to demonstrate unity in the party instead of projecting the infighting between the two camps.
The battle-scarred Captain is bound to take advantage of the gaffe on Sidhu’s part and is trying to consolidate his position by softening senior leaders. His visit to former CM, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal’s house on Friday was not without reason. However, his government has also taken several unpopular decisions like the increase in liquor prices which may have its ramifications during the polls.
There is social discord in Punjab and if leaders do not check themselves, political unrest could follow. Between us.